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HP releases code to e-commerce software

Hewlett-Packard opens up the programming instructions of its e-speak deal-making software and will ultimately release control over it.

Hewlett-Packard has opened up the programming instructions of its electronic deal-making software and will ultimately release control over its development, the company said today.

A test version of the company's "e-speak" software is available to programmers who register at HP's Web site. As previously reported, HP is releasing the original programming instructions, called the "source code," to those who wish to try their hand at improving the software's features.

Making the software freely available--intended to promote widespread adoption--is HP's strategy for winning e-commerce adherents. Sun, IBM, and other computing rivals have adopted various plans to win hardware and software customers in the fast-growing market for products that transact electronic business.

To make e-speak "open source," HP has selected Gnu's famed General Public License--the same license under which Linux is released. The choice has several implications.

For one thing, it means anyone will be able to use the e-speak technology and modify it to his or her own ends. For another thing, it means that legally, those changes will have to be published if a company wants to sell or otherwise redistribute the modified software.

E-speak is designed to find services and negotiate deals over the Internet. For example, e-speak on a cell phone could automatically search for the best rate to make a call and then handle payment, said Rajiv Gupta, leader of the HP software effort.

HP plans to use the technology internally and has 14 development projects under way. The company's business expense reporting will use e-speak, Gupta said. HP is also developing e-speak programs that would be able to automatically search out storage space on the Internet.

HP will make money not by selling e-speak directly, but rather by selling gussied-up e-speak software packages such as its "broker-in-a-box," which lets companies easily set up e-commerce functions such as billing a credit card.

Once e-speak is released as open source, HP will have only partial control over it, Gupta said. At a developer's conference, HP is presently selecting companies and individuals to participate in an advisory council that will govern the software similar to the way the open-source Apache Web server is governed, by a federation of interested parties with no single entity wielding full control.

On December 8, when the final version is due, the e-speak source code will be available at a Web site devoted to the technology.